Thursday, October 15, 2015

Developing Mastery in Mathematics

By: Rachel Barry

History of SBL at EGHS
Throughout the past six years, the math department at Elk Grove High School has been working towards a standards-based learning and grading model.  We have rid our classrooms of textbooks and created our own curricula based on Robert Marzano's 4-tiered scale.  You can read more about our curricula in an older blog post here.  

We knew that along with creating our standards-based instruction, course materials, and assessments, we also needed to develop an appropriate standards based grading policy.  Through meetings among PLT leaders as well as with the entire department, we developed a grading system that would effectively translate a grade on our 4-leveled curricula to a percentage grade, the method our district asks us to report grades.  This grading policy can be read about on this prior blog post.  

Through reading and attending conferences, I am continuously learning more about effective standards-based grading practices.  This causes me to question my practices as well as those we have developed in our PLTs.  Are students receiving all of the feedback that they need to be successful in my class?  Are students held accountable for mastery of standards in order to be successful in both current and future classes?  Are students motivated to learn more than the required content to "pass" my class?  My PLT members and I continuously have conversations regarding various classroom practices that we hope will address some of these questions.  One of these main questions that kept resonating with us is the accountability factor of critical math skills.  

Determining the Mastery Skills
A few years ago, PLT leaders met separately within the regular and honors levels to create a list of five "In's and Out's".  The "In's" are the five skills that we expect students to come into a course having already mastered, and the five "Out's" are the skills that we want to ensure our students have mastered upon leaving our class.  In the past, we PLT leaders used these to drive instructional practices of skills that we would continue to spiral throughout the year.  We didn't feel this was holding students accountable enough for these skills, so we added a cumulative review section of 5 questions to the end of each unit test.  Students weren't always showing consistency of material they had previously mastered, so we felt we needed something stronger within our curriculum to ensure student mastery of these "Out's".

So this year, my regular junior level Math 474 course is using these "Out's" in what we are calling our Mastery Skills.  Students will be accountable for mastering each of these five skills before exiting our course.  They will be expected to reach a level of 2 on each of the skills.  In percentage equivalency, they have to obtain an 75%.  We are expressing to students the importance of learning these skills for future math courses.  Students can reassess on this topic as many times as necessary.  

Here is our Math 474 course's Mastery Skills:

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Our goal with these Mastery Skills is to emphasize learning with our students.  Many times students are caught up in a grade.  Some students have a strong skill set in other mathematic skills that they wouldn't necessarily need to reassess on a poor skill.  Other students are complacent with meeting a minimum requirement to pass the class.  We hope that this method helps to promote the importance of these skills and build an emphasis on reassessment with our students.

In a future post, I will follow up with how our Mastery Skills are working in Math 474!

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